Lunch With MarlenePosted on: 16 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
A play and a cabaret that follows Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward from London to Las Vegas.
That great icon of the 20th century Marlene Dietrich is alive and well - on stage that is - in the shape of Kate O'Mara in Chris Burgess's Lunch with Marlene, on at New End Theatre in Hampstead, directed by Stewart Nicholls.
The year is 1970, the place London, and the legendary actress-diva, aged almost 70, phones her great friend Noel Coward in desperation, and they meet for lunch. Marlene wants advice on the autobiography which she has agreed to but which she has no desire to write. The trouble is, she has already spent the advance payment!
At the lunch we are treated to a snapshot of her life, and lovers, as memories of Marlene's time spent on the front line during the Second World War, and her painful return to Berlin in 1960 are evoked. As Marlene remnisces about her experiences in the war when she entertained the troops, she recalls, "The dirt, the stench, the cold", to which the facetious Noel quips, "Sounds like the Old Vic!"
After this short play - and the interval - Marlene and Noel treat us to a dream concert showcasing all their hit songs from Lilli Marlene and London Pride to Naughty Lola and Mad About the Boy, though my favourite is Where Have All the Flowers Gone? which, delivered with great emotional resonance by Ms O'Mara, still manages to bring a tear or two to my eyes!
Apparently the two legends first met in 1936 and remained devoted members of their own Mutual Admiration Society for nearly 40 years. They. were very different beings indeed but both shared an intimate understanding of each other, realising they were both self-creations whose deluxe personas required constant maintenance.
In fact it was Coward who encouraged Dietrich to reinvent herself as a cabaret performer after her film career went into free-fall. And it was Dietrich who persuaded Coward to totally rethink his musical arrangements, when he went to sing in Las Vegas - which, partly due to her intervention, led to a revival in his fortunes.
That this evening of drama, music and wit is made so entirely credible and affecting is thanks to a marvellously lifelike performance by actress Kate O'Mara. This is no mere impersonation but a spot-on performance that really seems to get inside Marlene's skin. She receives fine support from Frank Barrie who displays more than a passing resemblance to Noel Coward, particularly vocally.
A hugely enjoyable show, then, that fully deserves a West End transfer.
Plays until 27th April 2008.
Box office: 0870 033 2733 or: www.newendtheatre.co.uk
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